Transfiguration Essay for "The Deacon" Newsletter of St. Vincent's Cathedral
Words failed the apostle. But one thing he knew for certain: this moment must be made to last. “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” If the greatest saints in the history of Israel have come down to earth and are walking among us, we should make sure they stay right here. We could use their help!
That, of course, was not to be. A voice from the heavenly cloud made clear the point of this miraculous sign: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!” Once again Peter had gotten it wrong. Instead of clutching at heavenly things that were beyond his grasp, he should have been utterly attentive to the One who came down from Heaven, the One with whom he had been traveling for almost three years. The dazzling whiteness that now engulfed his Lord and Master on the mountain top should have reminded Peter of something Jesus had already told him: “He whom God has sent utters the words of God” (John 3:34a). Heaven had already come down to abide on earth with the Incarnation of God’s only-begotten Son. Peter had best focus his attention on the Word-made-flesh and His unalterable Good News for mankind, and not on a single, transient event—no matter how astonishing that event might be!
The Transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), therefore, reminds us to maintain a single-minded focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet Peter’s instinctive response to the transformation of His Master and the ethereal visit of Elijah and Moses also reminds us of another important truth: Despite appearances the veil between this world and the next is as thin as tissue paper.
In fact, the presence of those two Old Testament saints on the mountain top reminds us that a few people have already uniquely crossed the barrier between the worlds of flesh and spirit. For Elijah had been swept up into Heaven in God’s fiery chariot while he was still alive (2 Kings 2:9-12). And there are hints in Scripture that the body of Moses may have been miraculously assumed into Heaven shortly after his death (Deut 34:6b; Jude 9). Similarly early Christian tradition holds that the Virgin Mary was also bodily assumed into Heaven at the close of her earthly life, which the Catholic world will celebrate later this month in the great Marian feast of August 15th. Thus in some mysterious fashion a few of the Lord’s great servants already share in the delights of the resurrection life that all the faithful people of God will one day enjoy.
But the fellowship of Heaven is not limited to those few who have been miraculously taken up from this world. When we affirm in the Creed that we believe “in the communion of saints” we are proclaiming that God’s people still on earth and those already in Heaven remain united in Him. Mere physical death does not sever the bond between those who have become a new creation in Christ Jesus. The dazzling white cloud that enveloped the top of Mount Tabor so long ago is a symbol of that unbroken communion. And when we gather around Christ’s Holy Table in the Eucharist we lift up our hearts to the mountain top and join “angels, and archangels, and all the company of Heaven” in singing praises to the Holy One. In this way we are all being transfigured, conformed more and more, day by day to the image of Christ. And one glorious day we, too, will shine whiter than snow and speak face to face with the giants of the Faith!
The feast of the Transfiguration will be celebrated this year on Wednesday, August 6th. I urge you to consider joining us for Mass that morning in St. Mary’s Chapel at 9AM. But if you are unable to join us, please take a moment in your prayers to give thanks for the communion of saints and the unchanging, saving Word of the Living God. May God’s peace be with you all.